Am I Normal?
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Am I Normal? [QUIZ]

“I don’t have many friends… am I normal?”

“I don’t like pop music… am I normal?”

“I’m much shorter than my friends… am I normal?”

“I get picked on at school… am I normal?”

“I think I might be gay… am I normal?”

“I don’t look like the other kids in my class… am I normal?”

Lots of people have been asking Ditch the Label, “Am I normal?” So, we thought we’d answer all your questions with this nifty normality quiz.

Answer 16 questions and let us determine whether or not you’re normal for sure. Go on…we dare you 😉

 

Why you need to stop saying “that’s so gay”

It’s not uncommon to hear the expression “that’s so gay” used as slang to describe something negative, annoying or unwanted.

If you use the term, you might be unaware that every time you call something gay in reference to something bad, you are linking homosexuality with negativity.

Think of it like this: How would you feel if someone was using your first name to describe something sh*tty that had happened? How would you feel if people latched onto the saying and suddenly all around the world, your name was being used to describe bad or annoying events?

Not great I bet. You might even start to feel ashamed of your name, or pretend to others that your name is something else.

Below we have created a little exercise to help hammer home the point – maybe next time you flippantly go to say ‘that’s so gay’, you’ll think of the impact your words might have upon members of the LGBT+ community.

1. *Drops phone in the loo*
Say out loud: “That’s so *insert the name of one of your parents*”

2. Having to get up early for work when it is still dark outside.
Say out loud: “That’s so *insert your BFF’s name*”

3. Getting dumped.
Say out loud: That’s so *insert name of your crush*”

4. Arguing with your best friend.
Say out loud: That’s so *insert your own name*”

5. Failing your driving test.
Say out loud: “That’s so *insert name of your first pet*”

We interviewed Alayna Cole, founder of ‘Queerly Represent Me’ about the representation of the LGBT+ community in gaming

DtL: Hi Alayna! Could you tell us a bit about Queerly Represent Me? 

Alayna: Queerly Represent Me is primarily a database of games that feature queer content. It is also a home for resources about queer representation in games, including data collected and articles written by me, and work provided by other researchers and writers. The database started as a private collection, designed to help me keep track of games I was researching in my academic and journalistic work about queer representation; during that process, I decided to make the resources public so that anyone interested in queer representation could make use of the research I was doing. We are currently in the middle of a major update that will introduce a number of useful new features, which will be released before the end of the year.

DtL: Why do you think something like QRM is important?

Alayna: QRM is important because representation is important. By collating and talking about the representation that does exist, as well as how it positively and negatively impacts the audiences who engage with it, we can help promote change. The easiest way to see more games with queer content is to clearly and rationally show developers what works well, what doesn’t work, and why. I think it also helps that the suggestions on QRM are curated by someone who is also a developer, game design lecturer, and journalist; it helps me to ensure the dreams of our audience are presented in a realistic way that is influenced by a range of perspectives.

“QRM is important because representation is important”

 

DtL: When you built the database, did you notice any reoccurring trends?

Alayna: I’ve found plenty of trends, and I actually spoke about them at the Digital Games Research Association Australia conference a couple of weeks ago. A summary of my conference presentation and a related paper should be available on QRM’s ‘resources’ page soon. Some of the key trends are a lack of asexual representation, diverse genders (transgender and non-binary genders), and diverse relationship structures (such as polyamory). Of the queer representation that does exist, a lot of it is focused on same-gender relationships, particularly between women. It is often presented to audiences in a way that is very focused on sexual behaviour, stereotypes, and what can be seen as attractive from the perspective of the ‘male gaze’. There aren’t many explicitly bisexual characters, with developers tending to instead focus on creating playersexual characters (who are attracted to the player no matter their gender).

[full-width-figure image=”https://www.ditchthelabel.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/about-qrm2-1.png”]

 

DtL: Is the landscape of gaming changing? Has there been been an improvement in LGBT+ representation?

Alayna: There have definitely been more games with queer content released in recent years than there has been in the past. There are a couple of key reasons for this, I think: firstly, more easy-to-use game engines are allowing independent developers to produce games that reflect their own diverse experiences; and secondly, our insistence that queer (and other) representation is important is not going unheard by triple-A developers. The games industry itself is slowly becoming more diverse too in terms of who is working at these larger companies, and that’s making it harder for developers to simply lean on ‘default’ characters. It’s a slow process, but we’re moving forward.

“Our insistence that queer (and other) representation is important is not going unheard by triple-A developers”

 

DtL: Do you think a lack of representation/visibility in the media we consume has broader effects on society?

Alayna: A lack of diverse representation in media definitely has broader effects on society, just as increased representation does. Increasing representation has two key benefits: it helps those within minority groups establish a greater sense of identity and belonging; and it exposes those outside the represented groups to diverse perspectives, which can help them develop more empathy and understanding. Without the positive impacts that representation brings, we have members of minority groups who lack relatable role models and who have lower self-esteem, and we have less empathy in the world. Empathy is what we need if we are going to address issues such as prejudice, discrimination, bullying, and hate crime, which are harming individuals and communities.

“We have members of minority groups who lack relatable role models and who have lower self-esteem”

 

DtL: What is next for QRM?

Alayna: QRM just received a major update, adding a spreadsheet view to the database, as well as new information to help users, researchers, and press. This update took hundreds of (unpaid) hours to implement, so I’m taking a short break on adding new features for now. Next on the list is better integration of social media so that entries can be shared and discussed more easily. I also want to add more categories, so that games can be searched through and sorted by the identities that are being represented. I’m still adding new entries to the database all the time thanks to tips from the community, and am working on feature articles and academic papers that help spread this research further.

 

www.queerlyrepresent.me

Follow Queerly Represent Me on Twitter and/or Facebook.

Vesper blogs about identifying as non-binary

Life would be easier if it came with a guidebook.

If it did, maybe it wouldn’t have taken me 27 years to realise that I didn’t actually have to subscribe to society’s assertion that everyone is either male or female. At the very least, ripping the book to shreds in a fit of rage would have made for great stress relief. Then again, had there been such a book I probably wouldn’t have grown up to be the person that I am today and I wouldn’t change that for the world.

Hello, my name’s Vesper. I’m a 31 year old non-binary person who’s here today to tell you that gender is a much more beautifully complex thing than society would have you believe. That some people, such as myself, are neither male nor female but a different gender(s) entirely.

“Some people, such as myself, are neither male nor female”

 

Unlike some who struggled with the gender that society assigned them at birth from a young age, I grew up not actively thinking about gender. While I wasn’t oblivious to society categorising me as one thing as opposed to another, I was content to shrug off society’s assumptions. It wasn’t until adolescence when the background noise from society and my peers became increasingly difficult to ignore. It wasn’t until over a decade of denial and inner conflict later that I happened to come across the word “genderqueer” when researching my sexuality and all things LGBT+, which of course included the word “transgender,” a word I’d never heard of before.

The instant I discovered that there are, in fact, more genders than male and female, everything changed. While this may sound cliché and exaggeratory, the best way I can describe it is that it was like having gone through life for 27 years without glasses not realising just how blurred my vision had been until finally seeing it in focus with glasses for the first time. Everything made perfect sense! I was (am) neither male nor female, but a different gender entirely! I am maverique, one of many non-binary genders which are neither male nor female.

“I ran into criticism and rejection of genderqueer and non-binary people”

 

It wasn’t long at all before I started trying to immerse myself in LGBTQIA spaces online and no sooner had I done so than I ran into criticism and rejection of genderqueer and non-binary people. As someone who was brand new to discussion of sexuality and gender in general, it was incredibly hard not to internalise such negativity, especially since it was coming from people who I saw as my “senior” in the community. At the time, it was especially hard because the internet was my only means of accessing LGBTQIA spaces. Feeling under attack in the only space that I had caused me a lot of pain. However, having finally found words and a sense of commonality that made me feel comfortable in myself for the first time in my life, I sure as hell wasn’t about to let take that away from me. I chose to retreat from such spaces and create my own on Tumblr and YouTube.

[full-width-figure image=”https://www.ditchthelabel.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/vv.jpg”]

 

It’s been 4 years since I was first able to put a word to my gender. A lot has changed and yet it hasn’t at the same time. I’ve watched as so much growth has taken place within online non-binary and genderqueer communities and even as the identities themselves have grown and changed. In 4 (relatively short) years, I’ve also seen online LGBTQIA communities in general grow, change and yet remain the same. There have seemingly been shifts in the negativity and bullying, but at the end of the day it’s essentially the exact same hurtful thing it has always been, sadly. Unlike before, however, I now have access to offline LGBTQIA spaces. I’m also out to select family members and friends, which has brought with it new challenges.

“I actually never intended to come out to anyone in my extremely religious family”

 

Truth be told, I actually never intended to come out to anyone in my extremely religious family. I ended up being outed time and time again in part thanks to my own social media presence. Make no mistake, being outed is a pleasant experience and I do wish things had happened differently, but 2 years after my first outing to my minister of a mother, I’m finally in a place where I can look back on it all and be glad to be where I am now. My being non-binary continues to be the biggest thing that my family struggles to understand and come to terms with about me, but things have improved a lot in 2 years.

Navigating LGBTQIA spaces as someone who is neither male nor female continues to be very challenging at times. That said, every day awareness and support of non-binary people grows. More than ever, non-binary people are carving out spaces for ourselves and I’m incredibly grateful for this. It means that even when faced with negativity elsewhere, there are spaces for us to retreat to for support and affirmation when need be. I’m so proud of how far things have come for non-binary people in 4 short years. There is still a long way to go, but I’m more confident than ever that we’ll get there.

“Self-care and self-awareness are perhaps two of the most important things I’ve learned since coming out to myself”

 

To exist in this world as a non-binary person is a challenge. Even more than that, life itself is an act of defiance. There are days when that fact makes it all the harder to get through the day, but there are also days when that fact can be empowering for me, making me love myself and everything that I am all the more.

Self-care and self-awareness are perhaps two of the most important things I’ve learned since coming out to myself. If you’re non-binary, genderqueer or otherwise struggling to navigate and survive in this society that we live in, I encourage you to take time out of life for yourself. Shut everyone and everything else out and check-in with yourself. Acknowledge how you’re feeling, allow yourself to feel that way and love yourself because of, or in spite of it. Be kind to yourself because you’re just being you and you’re doing your best. That’s more than enough.

Society in general, including the LGBTQIA community, has a lot of learning to do. In the meantime, keep being as awesome as you are. Let those of us who are in a position to try and help society learn, who are able to offer support/encouragement to others, do our thing.

“Navigating LGBTQIA spaces as someone who is neither male nor female continues to be very challenging at times”

 

Perhaps you’re reading this not as a non-binary person yourself, but as someone who’s curious and wants to learn more. There’s a lot that someone who isn’t non-binary can do to support those who are, but in my humble opinion one of the biggest things you can do is listen. Tips on what you can do to be a good ally to non-binary people can be found in the things that we say.

I may be but one non-binary person among many, but I’m one non-binary person among many who can genuinely say that things have gotten better for them and who is determined to help support and raise awareness for non-binary people. Stay strong! And hit me up anytime.

Written by Vesper

Follow Vesper on YouTube

Tyler Clementi

In 2010, Tyler’s death became a global news story, highlighting the impact & consequences of bullying

Tyler was smart, funny and talented, with a big heart and a determined spirit, but internally he was struggling with depression and suicidal tendencies. He ultimately took his own life at just 18 years old. It has been surreal to piece together these two very different people: the Tyler I knew and loved, and the one I never knew at all.

I have struggled to process how anyone could want to hurt Tyler. He was hard not to love. He never had problems with people that bullied in high school, so when I learned that he had been violated and abused by his college peers, I was in total shock. Tyler was the good kid that never got in trouble. And when he finally was in trouble, he didn’t know what to do.

In September 2010, my brother was starting his freshman year at Rutgers University in the US. He had come out to me (actually, we came out to each other) earlier in the summer. I was very supportive and encouraged him to reach out to me no matter what the situation. Tyler came out to our parents only two days before leaving for college. They were shocked, but they advised him to be careful and guarded in his new environment. A new living situation with strangers can be risky, and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender young people are at a higher risk of being targeted than their straight peers.

“Tyler was the good kid that never got in trouble. And when he finally was in trouble, he didn’t know what to do”

 

My brother had been closeted in high school and he was excited to finally be out, to be himself for the first time. He was expecting to find a world that embraced him, but instead he soon realised that the start of his college experience had become a nightmare scenario that was far worse than he could have anticipated.

Tyler asked his roommate for and was granted permission to have privacy in their shared dorm room so that he could be alone with a date. What he didn’t know was that when Tyler’s roommate left, he went across the hall to another student’s dorm room and turned on her computer and remotely accessed his webcam, which he had left deliberately pointed at Tyler’s bed. The roommate invited a group of students to have a “viewing party” in the room and sent tweets to students at Rutgers as well as high school friends, detailing exactly what was going on. Tyler’s privacy was violated in a vulnerable moment.

My brother soon realised what had happened. He read his roommate’s Twitter account, which was filled with nasty, homophobic comments about Tyler and the encounter, which clearly was intended to be private. Tyler spiralled into crisis mode, and could not see any way out. I was there, and would have dropped everything to go to him and help him. But he didn’t reach out to me. The shame and stigma of what Tyler experienced pushed him toward a permanent choice that cannot be undone. That much cruelty and intolerance was too much for one gentle, shy young man to bear.

Over the last several years, my family has had to grapple with the questions of why this happened, and how we could have prevented it. No matter how much we want to, we can’t travel through time to bring Tyler back. But we have channeled our love for Tyler to serving other youth who feel isolated and targeted by bullies by creating the Tyler Clementi Foundation. We have chosen to use our personal tragedy as a teaching tool for others, so that more lives like Tyler’s are not senselessly lost. This fall, our foundation launched a research-based initiative that we believe will help other families avoid the sort of tragedy and pain that befell ours: the #Day1 Campaign.

“The shame and stigma of what Tyler experienced pushed him toward a permanent choice that cannot be undone”

 

The two biggest questions we have wrestled with are: “Why would someone want to hurt or humiliate Tyler?” And, “How can we make sure that other youth who are being bullied reach out for help before they take a self-harming action?” #Day1 addresses both of these issues. While it may seem obvious that we should always treat others with respect and dignity, the reality is that middle, high school, and college level students are not hearing this message from their teachers or administrators at school.

The #Day1 campaign explicitly spells out for young people exactly how they are expected to behave towards their peers. It states that mistreatment and abusive, cruel behaviour that will not be tolerated against any student for any reason. After students have heard the #Day1 pledge, they know exactly what is expected of them as part of the school community, and there is no room for misunderstanding. If Tyler or his peers had heard this statement at the beginning of their freshman year, it may have drastically impacted the way he was treated.

In regards to my second question, I believe the biggest obstacle for young people reaching out for help is the shame and stigma they feel when they experience bullying and harassment. It is my hope and belief that by having teachers and school administrators read the #Day1 pledge to students, it will send the message, “You are not alone. You have nothing to be ashamed of. Let us help you. We are here to help, and we want to help.” When a student hears their school’s principal read the #Day1 pledge during an assembly, or their history teacher read the pledge in the classroom, it sends them the message that they are not the only person that this is happening to. It lets them know that their school has an environment of support and acceptance for those who are different, and they are empowered to speak out if their dignity is being violated in any way.

Written by James Clementi (Tyler’s brother)

Learn more about the Tyler Clementi Foundation at http://tylerclementi.org

 

Fox and Owl, Trans and non-binary couple

Fox and Owl on what it is like to be a trans, non-binary couple in 2016

DtL: Hi Fox & Owl – can you tell us a little bit about yourselves and how you met?

Owl: We met at the Transgender Europe (TGEU) Council in Bologna, Italy. The Council is held every two years by TGEU and is the biggest European (even international) event where trans people from organisations all over the world come together and meet, share experiences, host workshops and generally have a chance to network with one another, both personally and professionally.

Fox: I was hired by TGEU to create 5 short films about the work they do and Owl was on a list of people that I was supposed to interview during the Council. So that’s where we connected and the since then it has been a romantic comedy, really.

DtL: Did you have any fears about transitioning?

Fox: It was fear that held me back for so long. I was scared of not being accepted, but most of all I feared it not fixing the deep sense of dysphoria, discomfort and anxiety I felt. Luckily, I took the leap, I’m still around to tell the tale and never been happier.

Owl: To me it was definitely a step that was very frightening to take – but I also felt like it was the right one. I knew that it wasn’t going to be easy, but the alternative was even more frightening and grim. I basically would not be here if I had not made that decision and I don’t regret it for a second. I didn’t have many fears related to the transition process in itself. I was more afraid of how people would react and how I would be treated in society, because we all know that trans people are heavily discriminated and marginalised in society for a variety of reasons. We often lack proper access to health care and our human rights are being broken all around the world. Thankfully I had the opportunity to access a health care system, which is a privilege I am very aware of.

“An act of self-love as a trans person becomes a radical notion”

 

DtL: What are your most prominent challenges, and how do you overcome them?

Fox: I’ve been medically and socially transitioning for 5 years now, so I’m past the initial wobbly years, and no longer feel like a teenager! For me, it’s about catching up for lost time. I’m a work-a-holic, so not it’s about trying to find a balance between work for My Genderation, Trans Pride Brighton, All About Trans and my love life with Owl! I’m lucky because we are both heavily involved with trans activism in Europe (and beyond) so we understand when work has to come first.

Owl: I guess my most prominent challenges were to learn how to accept and love myself. In our society, trans people are so heavily scrutinised that an act of self-love as a trans person becomes a radical notion. It’s also learning how to navigate your way around the world where you’re sometimes very celebrated but in other places deeply hated. As an activist who does a lot of work around the world, it’s very difficult to find your place sometimes. But I am in a very good place now with myself. I’ve both socially and medically transitioned and I feel in a place where I am happy with myself, and I’ve also finally found someone to share that with. And not only that but someone who understands and shares my experiences in so many ways.

[full-width-figure image=”https://www.ditchthelabel.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/foxxx.jpg”]

 

DtL: What is it like to be non-binary in 2016 and what needs to change?

Fox: There’s still a lot of work to do in public awareness of non-binary issues. We even have a battle from within the trans community, where some people feel that presenting as other than the binary threatens their own identity. We have no legal recognition. This is why Owl and I are embarking upon a feature documentary called They, which is our non-binary love story, documenting our lives, the way the world treats us (both positively and negatively) as well as the day-to-day lives of many other non-binary or gender-fluid defining individuals.

Owl: Being non-binary is very complicated, because your very being is in itself a political statement as well as being a personal experience. In a world that is so fixated on two genders and two sexes, you simply don’t get to exist in a way. Socially, we are still at such a starting point with the discussion of gender and gender identity, not to mention that we are almost nowhere legally recognised and possibilities to register your gender as anything else than man or woman is impossible. What needs to change is something very fundamental in our society; the constant binary of gender and sex is what is causing most difficulties for non binary trans people and it just causes difficulties for us all. It creates the notion that men and women are two opposites of a spectrum and that they come together and unite each other. This creates very essentialistic ideas about behaviour, expectations, gender roles and so on. So in my opinion, we need to start challenging and questioning this more actively and push for legal rights and access to health care for non binary people.

“Being non-binary is very complicated, because your very being is in itself a political statement”

 

DtL: What are you experiences (positive and negative) as a non-binary couple?

Fox: Just recently there was a massive explosion on FB as our vlog was shared on the darker side of the internet. Within 24 hours we had 4000+ hateful comments. We made this live video at the time: https://www.facebook.com/uglastefania/videos/1400204600006031/?pnref=story. Strangely enough, we’d already filmed this sketch about trans haters, so it was perfect timing to release: https://www.facebook.com/MyGenderation/videos/1253511338016869/?pnref=story

Owl: Our gender expression is mostly feminine and masculine, so when people who don’t know us see us down the street, they might assume that we are cisgender and straight. This is something that gives us a certain privilege in society as we fit into the norm in many ways and rarely have to worry about our safety in public spaces, at least not in places where people don’t know who we are. However, our identities as queer and non-binary are also very important to us, so when we are in queer spaces we sometimes notice that people seem to think we don’t belong there, because of our gender expression and the way we appear to them. They assume we don’t belong in queer spaces.

DtL: Did you ever experience bullying? If so can you tell us what happened and how you overcame the experience.

Fox: I honestly think that everyone has experienced bullying. When I was younger I was bullied for not being feminine enough. And, as a mixed race person (I’m half indian), having spent many years in the Saudi sun (our family lived out there when I was growing up), I was bullied for the colour of my skin. For many years I was very down on myself but I learned to turn that sadness around, and to create poetry, fanzines, music projects, screen-prints and film.

Owl: I think that anyone who has ever been gender non-conforming at some point in their lives has experienced bullying. I was bullied constantly for being too feminine, constantly being called gay, a fag, a sissy in a negative way. Fortunately I had friends who supported me and I become very involved with sports, as an act of rebellion and to show people that even the people they bullied could beat them at sports. I became very good and I certainly did show them what I was capable of.

[full-width-figure image=”https://www.ditchthelabel.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/unnamed-11.jpg”]

 

DtL: What advice would you give to those who may be experiencing bullying or feel like they don’t fit in because of attitudes towards their gender identity?

Fox: Don’t give up and live your life for yourself, nobody else. You’re only in a position to help others once you’ve assessed your own situation. Life’s too short to not be happy.

Owl: I think it’s important to remember that we are all beautiful and amazing in our own ways. Find your passion and don’t let anyone take that away from you. Don’t give up and keep going strong. Try to find support around you; what helped me the most was finding people in my position, other trans people and people who experienced bullying.

“It’s important to remember that we are all beautiful and amazing in our own ways”

 

DtL: What has been your proudest moment so far?

Fox: Having our first broadcast on the BBC in 2015 was amazing. Having a celebration at C4, for the creation of 25 short films through All About Trans was extremely special. It was so amazing to have all the contributors there to celebrate, which is apparent in the photograph afterwards. I felt the most proud at each Trans Pride event I’ve helped put on. We’ve just had our 4th annual celebration and it’s so much work, but always fills my heart with joy. The feeling there is unlike any other.

Owl: I’ve had so many wonderful moments that it’s hard to say. I’ve achieved much success in my activism in Iceland and I’ve been a part of so many different and amazing projects all around Europe. Just to recall a few, I think it was extremely special when I was a part of a project in Lithuania were we held the first official meeting for trans people in that country. It was an amazing experience and I feel like these moments are always the most special. When you connect with trans people around the world and you give each other support. I take my pride from the connections, the friends I make and the people I reach out to and support. It also gives me so much and inspires me to continue.

I’ve also received awards in Iceland for my contribution as a spokesperson, including the science and education award from the Iceland Humanist Association (Siðmennt). I’ve also done a TEDx talk, and done TV interviews, articles and appearances around the world.

DtL: Is there anything you would like to add?

Fox: If you’d like to see more of our work, join us on social media!!

www.youtube.com/mygenderation

[Photo credit: Alda Villiljós villiljos.com ]

Bisexual man, YouTuber, RJ,

Writer, Actor, Comedian, and online personality R.J. Aguiar on what it is like to be a bisexual man

I didn’t meet my first out bisexual person until I was a freshman in college. Let that sink in for a second.

I went 18 years on this planet without meeting the first openly bi person. Notice how I said “openly”. Chances are that I met plenty of bi people all throughout my childhood, just from a statistical standpoint. But it wasn’t until I was a legal adult that I finally met someone who actually identified as such. And as someone who would later come out as bisexual himself, this was a pretty huge moment for me. Imagine going through your entire childhood without meeting someone who shares your same identity. Imagine what it would feel like to spend so many of your formative years without experiencing that kind of validation. Imagine trying to accept such an integral part of who you are without anyone else telling you that it’s okay…that you’re not confused…that you’re not indecisive…you’re not just trying to seek attention…you’re not just going through a phase…that everything you’re feeling and experiencing is valid and not shameful.

It’s hard enough trying to make sense of your identity when you don’t really have words to describe what’s going on. It’s even worse when your only exposure to your own identity is purely through negativity and shame. I had heard the word “Bi’ a handful of times throughout middle and high school. Usually in the context of sentences like “so ­and­ so says she’s might be bi, she’s such a slut” or “she says she’s a little bi, but she’s only doing it for attention”. It’s worth mentioning that these conversations only ever centred around girls. Any attempt at men identifying as such was immediately dismissed as a gay boy’s attempt at being in denial. Add to this the fact that I grew up in the Catholic Church, which added so much oxygen to the “shame and confusion” fire. Luckily for me, my church didn’t preach much of the “fire and brimstone” teaching of same-sex attraction that many others spew. Instead, it perpetuated what I like to call “soft homophobia”, which ended up being especially tricky for me to navigate. Soft homophobia goes a little something like this: “You can’t necessarily help it if you have gay thoughts, but you can help whether or not you act on them. And if you do act on them, that’s shameful and wrong. You can always choose what impulses to act on.”

“Imagine going through your entire childhood without meeting someone who shares your same identity”

 

And that was the problem. In my case, they kind of had a point. I was kind of being pulled in two different directions, with my same-sex attraction pulling me in one direction and my opposite-­sex attraction pulling me in another. Of course, my church wasn’t the only voice telling me that I had to pick one. In fact, pretty much everyone and everything was telling me that I had to pick one or the other. Believe me, I tried to. Despite the crushes I developed on girls and boys growing up, I only allowed myself to pursue girls. I tried and tried in vain to ignore any same­-sex attraction, hoping that, one day, it would just magically disappear the way so many people told me that it would. But years and years passed and that day never came. It seemed like I was always going to be pulled in two directions at once.

This is why it was so pivotal when I finally met someone who had made it a point to not “pick a side”. I had been told time and time again that it could only be one or the other, that people could be gay or they could be straight but never “both”. And yet here was someone who refused to play by those rules, and the universe hadn’t imploded. She was the first person who opened my eyes to the fact that bisexuality doesn’t mean that someone is half gay and half straight. The person you date isn’t going to change the fact that you’re always potentially attracted to more than one gender. And just because you are attracted to multiple genders doesn’t mean you won’t still be able to settle down and fall in love. It just means that the pool of potential applicants is a bit larger. These revelations were nothing short of earth-shattering to me. Part of me had always wanted that much to be true all along, but literally no one up until that point had told me that it was okay. The more we talked, the more her lessons on bisexuality resonated with me and the more my questioning and turmoil gave way to acceptance. It didn’t take long after that before I was finally able to say to myself “I’m bi, and that’s okay.”

[full-width-figure image=”https://www.ditchthelabel.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/O69A1114.jpg”]

 

I’d love to say that this marked the end of my journey towards being an out and proud bi man, but I’d be lying. As many an LGBT+ person will tell you, self-­acceptance is often just the first hurdle. Even if I was starting to accept myself, that didn’t mean that everyone else would feel the same way. There was (and still is) Biphobia everywhere. Worse yet, it wasn’t just coming from straight people. As counterintuitive and idiotic as it may sound, I encountered many a gay and lesbian person in LGBT spaces that would openly dismiss and express animosity towards bi/pan/otherwise fluid people. Opening up about my identity would mean putting up with stupidity and ridicule from both sides, which was something I wasn’t ready to handle. “Besides,” I argued to myself, “unless I’m dating someone, it’s not really any of their business in the first place. Why open up about this to everyone I meet just so they can question and doubt every relationship I have from then on?”

“I tried and tried in vain to ignore any same­-sex attraction, hoping that, one day, it would just magically disappear”

 

Luckily, shortly thereafter, I started dating someone who was incredibly chill about the fact that I was bi. The thing was…he was a guy. So the time came to make a choice: either come clean to people or let them draw their own conclusions. I only chose the first option for a very select few close family and friends, and the second one for pretty much anyone else. As a result, a lot of people kept mislabeling me as gay. Every time they did, I had to convince myself that it was easier letting it go than correcting them and possibly having to deal with the ensuing pushback. That method worked for a few years, until one day, I got an anonymous message on Tumblr that put me over the edge. I decided to take to YouTube and shut down everyone who tried to shove me in a box where I didn’t belong.

Little did I know that the response my little rant would be absolutely massive. And it was through the massive response I got to that video (and to all the other ones I’ve made about bisexuality since then) that I discovered just how important it is to live your truth. I’m not going to sit here and say that Closeted Me was wrong and that I never experience any Biphobia or hate, because that would be a lie. But what I didn’t realise previously is that coming out would give me access to an entire community that I didn’t even know about before. I’m not just talking about organisations like BiNetUSA, the LA Bi Task Force, AmBi, the BiCast, and other great Bi organisations – I’m also just talking about the thousands of people who have flooded to the videos and my channel to say “hey, I’m bi too!” Speaking from experience, being closeted can be a very isolating experience. So finding your community can be an incredible relief, even if it is mostly online. It’s that feeling I got when I met my first bi person but multiplied by a hundred. Better yet, I get to be that person to literally thousands of others, the one who says “who you are and what you’re experiencing is valid”.

“So if you’re bi, pan, omnisexual, polysexual, fluid, or any other label under the Bi+ umbrella, fret not. You’re not alone”

 

The funny thing is, I’m still learning a lot about bisexuality. You’d think that the concept would be as simple as “being attracted to more than one gender”, and it sort of is. But there’s also all sorts of history and heritages and facts and figures. For instance, did you know that the organiser of the first Gay Pride parade was a bi woman? Or that Bi+ people experience higher instances of sexual assault and intimate partner violence than their gay and straight counterparts? I won’t bore you with a course; if you’re really interested, there are plenty of resources out there written by far more qualified people. Point is, I’m finding out all of this new information about my own identity, which is something I never even thought would be possible all those years ago. Oh, and I’m also headed to the White House in late September to participate in a Bisexual Round Table. How’s that for a happy ending?

So if you’re bi, pan, omnisexual, polysexual, fluid, or any other label under the Bi+ umbrella, fret not. You’re not alone. Same goes if you’re gay or lesbian or trans or ace. You don’t have to come out if you think it might put you at risk. But know that, if and when you choose to, there will be others out there who share your same identity. If you don’t really know how you want to identify, that’s fine. There’s no law that says you have to pick a label at any time. If you come across one that feels like it fits, great! If not, who cares? And if you choose one label and then later find another one that fits better, then that’s fine too! But no matter how you identify, realise that it’s not anyone’s responsibility to live their life in a way that makes sense to you. Chances are that, at some point in your life, you’re going to come across someone who does something or has an identity that makes no sense to you. That’s okay. There’s no requirement that says their life and their choices have to make sense to you. You can cause real damage by ridiculing and/or dismissing them, and for what? It’s their life and their existence compared to your brief interaction with them. It costs you nothing to simply accept them, and yet it can mean the world to that person. And if you need any proof as to how meaningful it can be, let me serve as your example.

Written by RJ Aguiar

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